Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronavirus Update March 25: Our TBE Bunkers, Courageous Leadership Now, The Coronavirus as a "Formative Event," Is Passover Really Just Two Weeks Away?

From the Rabbi's Bunker

Home workstations of Linda Rezak, Mindy Rogoff and Lisa Gittelman Udi

Jami Fener's - and Steve Lander's "home" workstations, 
If his Steve's looks suspiciously familiar, he got dispensation from the governor to 
"man the fort," along with Alberto and Rad.

And here's Beth Silver's bunker - and, as she puts it, "my new executive director"  
Looks like Steve has been temporarily replaced.

Shalom from my bunker, which is not nearly as luxurious as the other bunkers shown here. But we do have Dan with us, and the three dogs (my executive directors) are here for the long haul and really enjoying seeing so much of us.


A glance at the front pages around the world this morning generates a collective urgency that is both alarming and comforting.  We realize that we are all in this together, with responsible leaders everywhere understanding the gravity of the moment.  

Israel's proposed new restrictions - i24 screenshot

Governor Lamont chimes in with characteristic New England bluntness, creating an interesting dialogue of juxtaposed headlines.

Some Recommended Reading: 

Some is light, some not so much... but we live in serious times, and we need to somehow come to grips with it - together)
-       Pikuach Nefesh: The Jewish Value of Saving a Life (Asher Lopatin, MyJewishLearning)
-       To help pass the time, here are some party games to play online with your friends as well as some board games.
-       The Plague Is a Formative Event. When It Fades, New Possibilities Will Emerge (Ha'aretz) I share with you an excerpt from this soul-stirring essay by famed author David Grossman, who predicts that when the pandemic ends, it will have changed everything.
...We already know: A certain percentage of the population will be infected by the virus. A certain percentage will die. In the United States, they're talking about a million people. Death is very tangible now. Those who can, repress. But those whose force of imagination is highly active - such as this writer, for example: so you have to take what he writes with doubt and skepticism - becomes a victim of imaginings and scenarios that multiply themselves with a speed that is no less than the rate of infection of the virus. Nearly every person I meet projects to me in a flash the various possibilities of his future on the roulette wheel of the plague. And of my life without them. And their life without me. Every meeting, every conversation, could be the last.
The ring is growing ever tighter. At first they told us, "We are closing the skies" (what a term!). Afterward the beloved cafés were shut down, the theaters, the sports fields, the museums. The kindergartens, the schools, the universities. One after the other, humanity is extinguishing its lanterns.
Suddenly, a disaster of biblical scale has entered our lives. "Then the Lord sent a plague upon the people." And the world was plagued. Every person in the world is taking part in this drama. No person is excluded. There is no one whose intensity of participation is less than that of others. On the one hand, because of the nature of mass slaughter, the dead we don't know are only a number, they are anonymous, faceless. But on the other hand, when we look today at those who are close to us, at our loved ones, we feel how much every person is an entire culture, infinite, whose disappearance would dislodge from the world someone who is now and will always be irreplaceable. The uniqueness of every person suddenly cries out from within them, and just as love causes us to set apart one person from the masses that flow through our life, so, we see now, the awareness of death also causes us to do.
For many, the plague might become the fateful and formative event in the continuation of their lives. When it fades away, at long last, and people come out of their homes following a lengthy closure, new and surprising possibilities might be articulated: perhaps having touched the foundation of existence will foment that. Perhaps the tangibility of death and the miracle of being rescued from it will jolt and rattle women and men. Many will lose their loved ones. Many will lose their place of work, their livelihood, their dignity. But when the plague ends, there may also be those who will not wish to return to their former lives. There will be those - the ones who are able to, of course - who will leave the job that for years stifled and suppressed them. Some will decide to leave their family. To separate from their partner. To bring a child into the world, or precisely to refrain from that. There will be those who will come out of the closet (out of all manner of closets). Some will start to believe in God. There will be religious believers who will apostatize. Possibly a consciousness of life's brevity and fragility will spur men and women to set a new order of priorities. To insist far more on distinguishing the wheat from the chaff. To understand that time - not money - is their most precious resource.
-       Courageous Leadership Now: An Urgent Agenda for the Jewish Community and its Institutions, by Yehuda Kurtzer of the Shalom Hartman Institute (e-jewishphilanthropy). Kurtzer states that American Jewish leaders need to see the preservation of democracy as well as public health as an existential and Jewish issue.
The American Jewish community does not treat any longer, as it once did, the infrastructure of American democracy as an essential Jewish concern. A useful contrast on this front is the case of the ADL, founded in the early 20th century on the premise that Jews could ensure their own safety in America most effectively by ensuring the safety of all Americans against racism, bigotry, and oppression. The theory - vital to American Jewish thriving in America in the 20th century - was that a stronger civic, democratic America was a bulwark against the threats to Jewish persons in America.
...The Jewish community has largely drifted away from this commitment....There are a wide set of concerns that should be thought of as existential Jewish concerns because they are existential to America, and because Jews are Americans. These include better public health and access to quality health care, a stronger social safety net to help those who fall into poverty, the ensuring of voting rights, a coherent immigration policy, a functional bureaucracy, and so forth. In our partisan climate, it may seem that any engagement in American public policy issues entails a partisan choice; but the choice not to is treat our relationship to issues of state in America as a values-based engagement and not of existential import. I think we see today quite how important good government and public health are to the Jewish community in America.
-       Sorry, America, the Full Lockdown Is Coming - (Foreign Policy). By Laurie Garrett, former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer. Lots of important, practical advice. She writes:
Politicians won't admit it yet, but it's time to prepare-physically and psychologically-for a sudden stop to all life outside your home.... Plan now for your state of siege. Don't delay. Choose where you want to survive the pandemic, with whom, and how. Your window of opportunity to act is shrinking, very fast.  

So how do we cope with this new normal?
-       The AJC has found inspiration in acts of kindness and decency on the part of individuals of all backgrounds and faiths, around the world and has started a campaign to share and honor these acts and even inspire more of them. The initiative is called #BeAMensch ( based off of the Yiddish word meaning "a person of integrity and honor"- or, put simply, a good person.
Gee, it seems to me that someone recently wrote a book about that!

Kudos to AJC for reminding us that these are times that test our souls, and that Judaism gives us tools to combat the natural urge to become insular, cynical, detached and angry.

Time to Start Thinking About Passover
We can avoid it no longer. Passover begins two weeks from today. While two weeks seems like an eternity in Coronavirus time, it's equivalent to "tomorrow" when it comes to Passover prep. One of our teens, Liav Vadel, suggested that this year we might want to "Pass-over" it entirely. He was joking, but some have been very serious about the idea. A group of rabbis in Israel petitioned the Supreme Court to declare this a Jewish leap year and put Passover off for an extra month. But that didn't fly. So we must prepare, and over the two weeks, Passover will feature prominently in these messages from the bunker. Let's start with a few here:
The ruling was made by several Orthodox Sephardi rabbis in Israel, in light of the coronavirus situation. In general, the rabbis made it clear that the solution was only to be allowed during an emergency such as this, to allow the elderly to join in the celebration in order to bring them together with their families during a crisis. On Sunday, the Supreme court denied a request to declare a leap year in light of the coronavirus, saying that there is no legal mechanism for declaring a leap year due to an emergency. The request was made after the rising concerns that, due to the coronavirus situation, it would become far more difficult to obtain the proper supplies for the celebration. The hope was that the extra month added to the Hebrew calendar during leap years would remedy the problem.
The startup We has created haggadah inserts and additions to your table to spark meaningful conversations at your Seder.

And finally, leave it to the Kiwis to lead the way in showing us how to meet this challenge...

My ongoing prayers for health and blessing for us all through these difficult times,

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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